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Basketball: Conant soars to record 12th state championship

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Conant senior Aaron Rich hoists the Division III championship trophy as his teammates celebrate following the Orioles’ win over Somersworth on Saturday night. Staff photoS by Ben Conant

  • The Conant boys' basketball team played Somersworth for the NHIAA Division III championship at SNHU on Saturday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team won their record 12th Division III championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Sunday, March 10, 2019 8:45AM

Years of momentum came to a head Saturday night as the Conant boys’ basketball team won a record 12th NHIAA Division III championship with a 61-38 domination of defending champions Somersworth.

“I’m just so proud, I’m so proud,” said Conant head coach Eric Saucier, “especially having some of these kids for three or four years. It was a buildup. To lose in the first round the last two years and now to be champions, it’s unreal.”

All five of Conant’s starters – Peyton Springfield, Jake Drew, Anthony Gauthier, Gavin Motuzas and Connor Hart –  scored in double figures as the Orioles led wire-to-wire against the No. 1 seed Hilltoppers.

“Being the No. 1 seed, if you’re going to beat us, you’ve got to make all your shots, and tonight, it was a good shooting night for them,” said Somersworth star Evan Gray, who was named Division III Player of the Year on Sunday. “If you’re going to beat us you have to do exactly what they did, and make all your shots.”

Conant shot 56 percent from the floor and dominated the pace with 17 fast break points.

Saucier dug deep into his bag of tricks to slow down Gray, an athletic wingman who can score in a variety of ways. He averaged 16.7 ppg in the Hilltoppers 15-3 regular season and had a game-high 22 in Somersworth’s Jan. 31 win over Conant, so drastic measures were necessary, and Saucier – going against his very core – sent his boys out in a zone.

“I’ve just always been man-to-man, in college, when I played in high school, it’s always worked for us – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Saucier said. “But, tonight, with Evan Gray, he’s a game-changer – we had to change it up a little.”

Conant played a 3-2 matchup zone that Saucier said he’s used only once before – on the same court, in the 2015 semifinal win over Berlin. The Orioles doubled Gray on the entry pass, denied his shot, and forced him to kick out.

“Our goal was to come in and frustrate Evan Gray as much as we could,” Drew said. “When they’re getting open shots, they can make them but they’re not as good at creating their own shots, so when we shut down Evan Gray, it was tough for them to get in, kickouts, stuff like that.”

Conant held Gray to four points on just one field goal as Somersworth shot 24 percent from the field in the first half, and the Orioles were up 32-16 at halftime.

Somersworth made a run in the third as point guard Travis Wright scored five straight and cut the lead to 11, but Saucier called timeout, calmed his Orioles down and stemmed the tide.

“We weren’t defending with energy like we had in the first half,” Saucier said. “We’d done that all year where we’d get up 14 and then we’d get lackadaisical and I just had to remind them, there is no tomorrow. What are you being lazy for? Why are you being lazy? Let’s play like we did in the first half, let’s go, and they did.”

Conant pushed the lead back up to 20-plus and held it for the rest of the game; by the midpoint of the fourth quarter, even Saucier cracked a smile on the sidelines as the Orioles coasted to a 61-38 win, the largest margin of victory in any of Conant’s 12 title game wins. 

Gray finished with 13 points to lead Somersworth; Wright had ten. Drew scored a game-high 16 to lead Conant; Springfield had 14 and eight rebounds; Gauthier double-doubled with ten points and ten rebounds; Motuzas had ten and Hart scored ten as well on 4-4 shooting from his favorite spot along the baseline.

“Third game in a row we’ve had that balance and that’s what you need to win a championship,” Saucier said. “It can’t be one guy, it’s got to be all the guys, they all have to know their roles and they all did their part tonight. Now they can say they’re champions.”

It was the first championship for Conant since the Orioles went back to back in 2013 and 2014, and it’s been a long journey since. Each year, Conant seemed to finish further and further away from their goal, losing in the finals to Pelham in 2015, losing in the semis to Kearsarge in 2016, going out in the second round to Somersworth in 2017 and then last year’s first-round upset against White Mountains. But the Orioles never stopped grinding.

“It’s a growth and it’s not easy,” Saucier said. “I tell these guys all the time, I know I’m tough to play for, but there’s a reason for it, and tonight that toughness really showed and that discipline really showed. I can’t emphasize how proud I am of these guys.”

For Conant’s starting five, the journey started well before high school, before any of the playoff losses or the 1,000-point milestones. All five played together on Dave Springfield’s Gym Rats AAU teams, and Drew said that those years of playing together were key to this culmination of success.

“That was huge for me, Peyton, Anthony, Gavin, Connor, we all played with him,” Drew said. “He’s helped us so much that once we get to the high school level, it’s coach Sauce and summer league and we do fall league and all of that, it all comes together.”

Saucier, too, credited the Conant basketball community for enabling his Orioles to soar to new heights, year after year.

“It’s the buy-in,” Saucier said. “It’s the buy-in from the parents, the community and all the hard work that the parents put in as well as the kids. It’s gotta be a commitment.”

At Conant, they’re as committed as they come, and on nights like Saturday, it’s easy to see why.